I was 18 years old when I experienced my first sense of true freedom. Amidst my parent’s impending marital demise (and it was ugly), I chose to declare my independence, pack up my vehicle, and move 6 hours away.
I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with 3 other females, located in the center of a very high crime area of the town I was now a resident of. I worked odd jobs, and at a few restaurants while I attended a local seminary (THAT is another story entirely).
I was broke. I was young.
I was free.
Or so I thought.
I was also 18 years old when I experienced my first panic attack.
I was with a group of friends in the local mall. We were eating ice cream, flirting with boys, making plans for the next week; Not a care in the world…and it came out of nowhere. I looked out into the crowd of people floating past, at no one in particular, and was instantly overwhelmed by an adrenaline dump. My fight, flight or freeze response put me on autopilot, and I felt as if I were watching myself interact with the world.
My hands felt numb, and I wanted to scream:
“We need to go. I have to leave right now. I think I’m going to be sick.”
But I couldn’t move. Time seemed to be frozen as my body sizzled with a wave of heat.
This would be the first of many panic attacks that I would experience over the next 18 months. I finally went to the doctor when one of my friends commented on my weight loss.
I had always been thin. However, at this time, I had lost so much weight from the anxiety (which often caused me to vomit, make me isolate from others and ruined my appetite) that I was shopping in the children’s department just to find clothes that didn’t hang off of my body.
I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put a name to it. I knew that the doctor I went to thought that I had anorexia, but I had never had an issue with food or my body image, and told him such. He blankly suggested that I see a counselor. I’m sure that he was convinced that I had an eating disorder and was in denial. But, I’m glad that he gave me the suggestion.
So, I went to a counselor that was recommended by a friend’s parents. She helped me to understand that I wasn’t losing my mind, having a heart attack, and I did not in fact have anorexia. I had, among other things, Anxiety. Maybe Agoraphobia. But, she didn’t like labels. And I liked her outlook on life and me.
That began a journey that I am so thankful for. I found a lot of new ways of coping, a lot of healing, self-forgiveness, as well as a glimpse at my future career.
So, in a lot of ways, I am thankful for my anxiety.